Many studies have investigated the health benefits of increased nut intake and while nuts are not part of our Level 1 food list, they are available as a protein activity fuel for days when you are exercising. They can also be handy in a pinch when traveling or have a busy day on the go. A typical serving is a handful or around 1 oz. While usually high in fat, the fat they do contain is a healthy type. They're also good sources of fiber and protein. Many studies have shown that nuts provide various health benefits - primarily in regards to reducing heart disease risk factors. Most of the fat in nuts is monounsaturated fat, as well as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. However, they do contain some saturated fat. Nuts also pack a number of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and vitamin E.
So let’s look at some of the top nut varieties for betr health:
This nut is our recommended first choice whenever possible and are tree nuts that contain a number of beneficial nutrients. They may improve cholesterol levels and have also been shown to reduce inflammation in people with type 2 diabetes. Lastly, research is showing they may have a beneficial effect on your gut microbiota by supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
When looking for an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), walnuts are a winner. Walnuts appear to improve a number of heart disease risk factors, which may be due to their high content of ALA and other nutrients. They may also improve other factors related to heart health, including blood pressure while also helping reduce inflammation, which can contribute to many chronic diseases.
Pistachios are a popular nut consumed that is high in fiber and often found in pre-split shells. Similarly to almonds, pistachios may improve cholesterol levels and help increase "good" HDL cholesterol while also helping to improve other heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure.
Cashews are part of the tree nut family and while nutritious, they are a fattier nut with a lower quantity of fiber. They do contain a number of important nutrients and studies indicate that they may improve blood lipid levels and reduce blood pressure.
Pecans are often used in desserts, but they’re very nutritious on their own and best eaten that way. They are also on the fattier end of the nut spectrum. A few studies have shown that pecans can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol in people with normal cholesterol levels. And like other nuts, pecans also contain polyphenols, which are compounds that act as antioxidants.
Macadamia nuts contain a wide range of nutrients and are a great source of monounsaturated fat. Many of the health benefits of macadamia nuts are related to heart health. In addition, macadamia nuts may reduce other risk factors for heart disease, including oxidative stress and inflammation.
Brazil nuts originate from a tree in the Amazon and are an incredibly rich source of selenium. Selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant. Though it’s used for a number of bodily functions, you only need to obtain small amounts of it through your diet. A one-ounce (28-gram) serving of Brazil nuts will provide you with more than 100% of the RDI for selenium. They may also help reduce cholesterol levels, oxidative stress and inflammation.
Hazelnuts are very delicious and nutritious. Like many other nuts, hazelnuts appear to have beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors.
Peanuts, "The NON nut"
Peanuts are not tree nuts, but actually belong to the legume family. However, they have a nutrient profile similar to tree nuts. But with that said, we do not recommend peanuts as a good choice through Levels 1 and 2 as some people are more sensitive to the legume family.
Final thoughts on nuts
Most nuts are usually salted, which may eliminate some of their associated health benefits so instead, try to choose plain, unsalted, unflavored nuts. For example, avoid the dry roasted, salted, Ranch and BBQ flavors.
And with regard to nut butters (such as peanut or almond butter), most brands contain large amounts of added oils, sugar and other ingredients. Therefore, it’s critical to read your food labels and look for simplest list, ideally, just the nut!
Lastly, for the best nutrient kick to your day, create your own mixed nut blend and reap the benefits of the assorted nutrients each brings while creating interesting flavors. Remember to keep your portion size around 1oz (handful).
Eating simple, clean and healthy can be very tasty!